Stephen Cohen defends himself from charges he's an apologist for Putin, says a new Cold War has begun

Historians in the News
tags: Cold War, Russia



Stephen F. Cohen is a professor emeritus at New York University and Princeton University. His Soviet Fates and Lost Alternatives: From Stalinism to the New Cold War and his The Victims Return: Survivors of the Gulag After Stalin are now in paperback.

Editor's Note:  Stephen Cohen has warned this summer that the West should take seriously Putin's statements about Ukraine and not assume that they are intended just for propaganda. In remarks at the annual US-Russia Forum in Washington DC he addressed the criticism he's faced.  


...  About my episodic participation in the very limited mainstream media discussion, I will speak in a more personal way than I usually do. From the outset, I saw my role as twofold. Recalling the American adage “There are two sides to every story,” I sought to explain Moscow’s view of the Ukrainian crisis, which is almost entirely missing in mainstream coverage. (Without David Johnson’s indispensable daily Russia List, non-Russian readers would have little access to alternative perspectives. John Mearsheimer’s article in the September-October issue of Foreign Affairs is an important exception.) What, for example, did Putin mean when he said Western policy-makers were “trying to drive us into some kind of corner,” “have lied to us many times” and “have crossed the line” in Ukraine? Second, having argued since the 1990s, in my books and Nation articles, that Washington’s bipartisan Russia policies could lead to a new Cold War and to just such a crisis, I wanted to bring my longstanding analysis to bear on today’s confrontation over Ukraine.


As a result, I have been repeatedly assailed—even in purportedly liberal publications—as Putin’s No. 1 American “apologist,” “useful idiot,” “dupe,” “best friend” and, perhaps a new low in immature invective, “toady.” I expected to be criticized, as I was during nearly twenty years as a CBS News commentator, but not in such personal and scurrilous ways. (Something has changed in our political culture, perhaps related to the Internet.)


Until now, I have not bothered to reply to any of these defamatory attacks. I do so today because I now think they are directed at several of us in this room, indeed at anyone critical of Washington’s Russia policies, not just me. (Not even Kissinger or President Reagan’s enormously successful ambassador to Moscow, Jack Matlock, have been entirely immune.) Re-reading the attacks, I have come to the following conclusions:
§ None of these character assassins present any factual refutations of anything I have written or said. They indulge only in ad hominem slurs based on distortions and on the general premise that any American who seeks to understand Moscow’s perspectives is a “Putin apologist” and thus unpatriotic. Such a premise only abets the possibility of war.


§ Some of these writers, or people who stand behind them, are longtime proponents of the twenty-year US policies that have led to the Ukrainian crisis. By defaming us, they seek to obscure their complicity in the unfolding disaster and their unwillingness to rethink it. Failure to rethink dooms us to the worst outcome.


§ Equally important, however, these kinds of neo-McCarthyites are trying to stifle democratic debate by stigmatizing us in ways that make us unwelcome on mainstream broadcasts and op-ed pages and to policy-makers. They are largely succeeding.
Let us be clear. This means that we, not the people on the left and the right who defame us, are the true American democrats and the real patriots of US national security.




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